CEPI’s monthly overview of conventional and social media discourse in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia monitors propaganda and disinformation attempts, as well as democratic responses in the on-going information war, in order to increase awareness about this recently emerged challenge and promote fact-based discussion in Central Europe.

  • Migration, terrorism, and Chancellor Merkel
  • The Middle East and Syria
  • Turkey and President Erdogan
  • General anti-West campaign

 

Towards the end of 2015, the content of pro-Kremlin propaganda has been adapted to the new eventualities of the international landscape and to the changing geopolitical aims set by Moscow itself. Migration and its relation to terrorism, military intervention against “terrorism” in Syria, and deteriorated relations with Turkey became the new leading issues of pro-Russian propaganda. Moscow is more effective in using these topics to divide, demoralize, and demonize the West than it was with the Crimean crisis, as the consequences for the Europeans are perceived to be more imminent.

The crisis in Ukraine has clearly taken a backseat in the context of Russia’s growing economic pains that are exacerbated by the economic sanctions imposed by the EU and the USA and the falling prices of crude oil currently at the $30 per barrel level.  By offering military cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State, Moscow tried to ease tensions with its European partners (and weaken their sanctions) on the tailwind of the horrible Paris terror attacks.

The information war waged against Ukraine has remained visible on the online platforms but focused mainly on Kiev and the political and military exchanges between the direct participants of the military conflict, sidelining the supposed instigator role of the USA and EU in the events of the Maidan. Instead, one can observe “identity” politics and discourse on pro-separatist sites which feature “new Russia” or “Novorossija”, its military capabilities, and popular support of the uprising against Ukrainian rule mainly through the use of pictures.[1] (The picture below says: “Freedom for Novorossija! These guys will protect their homeland from the Ukrainian hordes even at the cost of their lives.”)[2]

Migration, terrorism, and Chancellor Merkel

While the propaganda argues for the lifting of the sanctions,[3] it uses the migration crisis to “divide and rule” the EU and its member countries. This goal is achieved by (1) connecting the influx of migrants with the alleged imminent threat of European terrorism,[4] (2) blaming the European mainstream for failing to deliver an adequate answer to the crisis,[5]and (3) by enhancing dissident voices who demand draconian measures against migration.[6]

The propaganda cites the demands expressed by Jobbik, a far-right party in Hungary, for “Hungary to take the crisis in its own hands by controlling Hungarian borders” with the EU which lacks the ability and strategy to stop migration.[7]Surprisingly, the main Hungarian conspiracy page on Facebook, the Titkolt hírek (Secret News), claimed as early as 21 December 2015 that migrant men can sexually harass European women without due punishment, and that Norway and Austria had initiated programs to educate Muslim refugees about sexual habits.[8]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under constant attack for her “soft” approach to migration which, according to hidfo.ru, “harbors a new dawn of terrorism”.[9] Czech-based parlamentnilisty.cz blames Ms Merkel for having a debate on the refugee crisis solely with the Western countries and ignoring the rest.[10] It is also highlighted that the Chancellor’s approval rating is falling and that the Germans do not want her to run in the next elections.[11] According to the same website, she has also been ousting her intra-party competition for years, including many “successful and popular” politicians.[12] The Aeronet wesite informed its readers that Germany had warned the EU member countries of a legal action they might face for not implementing the quota system and that “the German army would invade the Czech [Republic]” to enforce the policy.[13]

The picture below makes a parallel between the fate of the native Americans after the arrival of white Europeans to the continent and the future of Europeans after the influx of refugees: “There are almost as many whites as there are natives, we are surely going to perish! – We should change the immigration laws. – Shut up you RACISTS, multiculturalism will enrich our culture!”[14]

The Middle East and Syria

Syria is being used by the Kremlin as a new Crimea. It enables President Putin to cast himself as the defender of his people, even Europe, from an outside force. The information warfare makes continuous efforts to legitimize the Russian intervention in Syria and undermine Western position in the region. The Russian intervention is depicted as fundamentally different from the previous Western military adventures as it restores stability, a prerequisite for halting migration, effectively combats terrorism, and ultimately restores the legitimate power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[15] In the picture below, Hungarian Orientalista.hu claims that “800 thousand refugees have gone back to Syria due to the efforts of the Russians.”[16]

The Kiállunk Oroszország mellett (We stand by Russia) Facebook page cites Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov declaring: “The issue about the fate and legitimation of President Assad is not closed”, since the Vienna talks have acknowledged the Syrian people’s sole right to decide their own future for themselves.[17] The Czech public television broadcasted an exclusive interview[18] which was extensively reported by pro-Kremlin sources. Aeronet.cz published its own analysis in which it praised the Syrian president, comparing him with “some Czech politicians who were elected in that famous Czech pseudo-democratic way”.[19] The commentary continues: “If only the [Czech] nation had a politician the kind of Bashar Assad who would stand behind his nation even when facing the predominance of the Western world, their money, weapons and terrorists”.

Western intervention is demonized on multiple fronts. The West is aiding the terrorists by attacking Syrian government forces from the air[20] and even secretly evacuating leaders of the Islamic State.[21] Furthermore, aeronet.cz informed that the US Department of Defense started to ask the allied nations for help in the fight against the Islamic State, which would imply that “the Czech professional soldiers would soon be called up and might start to prepare for their deployment in Syria and Iraq”.[22]

The Picture below (on the left) depicts Barack Obama proclaiming that the United States of America are effectively fighting with the terrorists. Vladimir Putin replies, “Yes, I do trust what you’re saying. However it is necessary to fight AGAINST them, not WITH them.”[23] The picture on the right says: „Vladimir, you won’t believe it but I just captured one of them!“.[24]

Turkey and President Erdogan

A massive information war campaign has been directed against Turkey and President Recep Erdoğan after a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkish air-defence forces. Turkey is accused of having contracted the Islamic State for oil and Erdogan and his family of making $ 2 billion annually on this oil business. Turkey is also accused of arming terrorists with chemical weapons.[25] According to the Czech version of Sputnik, President Putin announced that Russian government knows who in Turkey is making money on oil business with terrorists[26] and the deputy minister of defence Anatoliy Antonov revealed it was the Turkish leadership including President Erdogan.[27]

Considerable part of the anti-Turkish reporting is devouted to the downing of the Su-24 jet by the Turkish military. Sputnik informed that the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov hinted that someone tried to mar the international effort to support Syria and instead helped the terrorists.[28] He also made the United States partially responsible for the incident and could not exclude the possibility that the shooting was coordinated with the USA.[29] The United States were also blamed for the brief Turkish incursion into Iraq, allegedly preparing ground for a new American occupation planned by Senator John McCain.[30] Finally, a Slovak server Hlavné správy (Main news) criticized the German-Turkish migration-crisis deal as it would only serve to support the Islamic State.[31]

The Czech server ac24.cz informed that Russian MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed to solve the situation by a nuclear attack against Turkey.[32] This is contrary to official position of the Russian president who claimed that there would not be any hysteric military retaliation.[33] A Czech portal Parlamentní listy published a commentary suggesting that Turkey had driven the world to the verge of a new world war.[34] According to Branislav Fábry, a member of the Slovak-Russian Society, a Russo-Turkish war would mean that Slovak soldiers would have to fight on the Turkish-Islamist side.[35] The Turkey-bashing also included promotion of voices claiming that Turkey should not be part of the European Union (Andrej Danko, Slovak National Party)[36] and should be expelled from the NATO (US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher)[37].

The picture below is “congratulating” US president Barack Obama on his success  in provoking what looks like the beginning of a Russo-Turkish war in Syria. The picture also alludes that the Turkish effort in this conflict is going to be funded from the European Union’s humanitarian fund, more specifically from the agreed annual 3 billion euros.[38]

General anti-West campaign

Central European outlets often translate articles written by selected Western authors who criticize the West and its institutions. The Slovak magazine Zem a Vek published an article by an American sociology professor blaming the mainstream media for lies and false reporting. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times are allegedly serving as a “propagandist trio” promoting the interests of the ruling elites.[39] Poland was also attacked for its “confrontational and extremist” security policy, “collaboration with a remote superpower”, and anti-Russian rhetoric which is incompatible with the interests of other Visegrad Group members. An article published in the same magazine suggests that the best solution would be to expel Poland from the V4 and narrow the format to V3.[40]

Czech Free Press republished a text by a British journalist who called the European Union an insult to democracy which should be dissolved.[41] The Hungarian propaganda also cared for the ruling Fidesz-KDNP’s animosity with the United States and widespread fears among party officials and voters about a Washington instigated coup against PM Viktor Orbán. Hidfo.ru accused Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, of asserting Washington’s control over the “Hungarian right”, while American lobbyist draft laws to be passed in the Hungarian parliament.[42]

A new high-quality Russian video with Czech subtitles spread through a number of pro-Kremlin websites in December 2015.[43] It questioned Russia’s responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine and blamed the West for atrocities across the globe. Russia was presented as a victim that is not going to surrender to the Western aggressors. In an interview for a Slovak website aktuality.sk, the former Czech president Václav Klaus depicted Russia as involuntary part of the Ukraine conflict, compelled by the West’s behavior to secure Crimea.[44]

A rather smile-provoking example of an anti-West attack is a definition of liberalism as a “mental disorder”[45], published by a notorious Slovak Facebook page Prečo amerikanofilom hrabe.

Edited by Milan Šuplata, senior fellow at Central European Policy Institute; Péter Krekó, Director at Political Capital Institute; Jakub Janda, Deputy Director at the European Values Think-Tank; Lóránt Győri, Analyst at Political Capital Institute. This document was published in the framework of projects run by the Slovak Atlantic Commission and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division.

© Slovak Atlantic Commission